Chasing the Shiny Thing: Four Hints You May Have Adult ADD, and What to Do About It

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Ryan Jenkins, American business writer.

After spending so many years working with productive people, and helping others become more productive, I’ve learned that some of us aren’t like the other of us. To some extent, all of us become distracted, at times, by new ideas suddenly appearing in the peripheries of our imaginations, often growing with prominence as they’re examined and prove intriguing. I’ve advised against allowing the new shiny things to overcome your focus, dragging you down the path of unproductivity. But you can’t just ignore those shiny things, because they’re gifts of the subconscious and may represent solutions to challenges you’re straining mightily to solve.

Instead, spear those errant thoughts with a pen, pinning them in place for later examination. My father has a mantra for this: “If you think it, ink it.” I have followed his advice throughout my business career.

Now, not all errant thoughts are useful, and some of us are constantly distracted by them, almost to the point of disability. Since 1980, psychologists have recognized that many children suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These individuals are so easily distracted they find it hard to function sometimes. ADD seems to vanish as most children mature, but it really just goes underground. Many sufferers live with ADD their whole lives, often adapting to it in positive ways. Indeed, some only discover as adults they’ve had it their entire lives.

Here are a few other hints you may have ADD, with suggestions for how to harness it to your benefit. This is by no means a diagnostic tool; see a physician if you think you have ADD. Even if you don’t, you can use the workarounds for productivity advantages.

  1. Your distraction is chronic and pervasive.  Everyone is forgetful and distracted sometimes, but if you have ADD, the behavior is prevalent. You may miss a lot of meetings, forget things at home, and lose track of items constantly. What should you do about it? The cure is to put so many boundaries around your distractibility that you channel it to your advantage. If necessary, schedule your day down to the quarter-hour, document everything, and keep your calendar app open—complete with alarms not just to remind you of meetings, but to remind you to prepare for them. Take copious notes at every meeting. Tight planning is the key and will help you with every aspect of your workday.

  2. You work best with a partner who complements your talents. Your talents may lie in initiating projects, getting the ball rolling, and passing it along. What can you do about it? Instead of falling prey to the Da Vinci Syndrome, where you leave many promising projects incomplete because you’re always moving on to something new, why not partner with a “closer?” Closers are great at picking up the threads of a project and finishing it—like one of those special people whose talent is closing contracts and getting the best possible benefits for the company. This hones teamwork and lets you both focus on what you’re best at, thus improving overall productivity.

  3. You carefully timebox your activities. You’ve made a to-do list and know exactly what your priorities are for the next day. Now what? To complete your work, you find you must assign a specific amount of time to each task and make sure you do at least that much. Not only does this keep you moving on a project (as long as you maintain your self-discipline), it has the benefit of making sure you don’t try to spread yourself too thin. When there’s only 8-10 hours in the workday, you’re unlikely to be able to make significant progress on fifteen or more tasks. Ultimately, you’ll keep from burning out while still hitting your goals, assuming they’re reasonable.

  4. You can hyper-focus.  The “hyperactivity” part of ADHD can be a misnomer in adults; that’s why I’ve used ADD instead. When people with ADD like doing something, they really like it—sometimes to the point of hyper-focus. No one can focus on something as well as someone with ADD. What should you do about it? If you find that there are times when nothing can budge you from finishing a task or solving a problem, and you tear through it in record time—often arriving at creative solutions—you may have adult ADD. In the workplace, this can be advantageous for focus.

  5. They want a decent work/life balance. Like Millennials, time outside of work is important to Generation Z. They’re very aware of its necessity. Ironically, though, their greater connectivity may blur the line between work and home-life even more than Millennials have. Furthermore, if their work is tech-related, they may enjoy it enough that they see it less as work than just another part of their life.

Unexpected Benefits

While we often view ADD as a disability, when harnessed, it can actually boost your productivity. The trick is recognizing that, and then putting your natural tendencies into play. Managing your ADD, working with it, and rewarding yourself for doing well can help you maintain your workplace edge.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland